Suspension of by-elections a violation of the constitution: ERC

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has been criticised for its persistent violation of the country’s constitution through its decision to suspend by-elections.

Section 159 of the constitution requires vacant elective public offices to be filled within 90 days but ZEC has stated the conduct of by-elections remains suspended, although other electoral activities such as voter registration can be resumed, following the relaxation of lockdown measures.

The effective banning of by-elections follows the recalls of opposition MDC Alliance representatives from parliament and local government.

Stakeholders said ZEC must submit itself to the constitution and best practices in administering electoral processes during the Covid-19 pandemic through non-selective compliance with legal, regional and international standards that include inclusivity in decision making, transparency in operations and accountability to all election stakeholders.

A think tank on electoral issues in Zimbabwe, the Election resource Centre (ERC) said it observed with concern the continued use of press statements by ZEC to resume and suspend electoral activities.

“ZEC illegally suspended electoral activities through a press statement on January 7, 2021, and resumed operations on March 23, 2021, using the same modus operandi, perpetuating an illegal way of administering electoral processes. ERC maintains that while ZEC has a constitutional mandate to administer elections, the law does not give the body discretion to arbitrarily start and process without a court order,” ERC said in a statement.

ERC said ZEC’s resumption of electoral activities must be preceded by the implementation of administrative reforms, of which the commission’s press statement did not outline what has been done to institute reforms or plans key in restoring public trust and confidence in election management.

“While the resumption of electoral activities is unprocedural and illegal, ZEC has also relegated the role of stakeholders to being advised accordingly. The commission in advising stakeholders of the review process for the resumption of by-elections has defied the notion of inclusivity. The statement by the electoral body suggests a negative attitude towards inclusion of stakeholders thereby making ZEC a law unto itself and unaccountable to citizens and stakeholders,” said the organisation.

ERC also said it was worrying no explanation was given why a selective approach had been taken in lifting the suspension of electoral activities.

“ZEC should pursue a court order to postpone elections as a product of exhaustive consultations with stakeholders. In addition should the order be granted to suspend the by elections, the ensuing suspension period should be effectively used to institute long awaited reforms. By-elections without reforms pose a threat to credibility and acceptability of electoral outcomes,” said ERC.

MDC Alliance Secretary for Elections, Ian Makone, concurred that it was grossly unreasonable to ban by-elections when Covid-19 restrictions continued to be eased throughout the country.

“The will of the people continues to be abrogated as Mr Mnangagwa’s regime purses its one party state agenda,” he said.

Makone noted the insincerity of authorities as he pointed out that various electoral activities took place during the strict lockdown, such as the “internal party elections by Zanu-PF and extra ordinary congresses by other parties.”

In such circumstances, Makone argued there was no justification for the continued ban of by -elections.

“ZEC has a constitutional obligation to prepare for conduct and supervise elections in the country. They have an additional legal obligation to consult widely before taking decisions on matters that impact electoral democracy,” he said.

The MDC Alliance official said ZEC last held a consultative meeting in February 2018 yet there was a need to hold continuous stakeholder meetings to make sure there is clarity and input from all key stakeholders on its strategic plan and programming for the year.

“We have written to ZEC requesting a meeting and to date we have had no response. We call for urgent sincere engagement on those critical issues. We also reiterate our call for voter registration  blitz as took place in 2017,” Makone said.

“The number of new registrations since 2018 is negligible, whereas the data suggests that over 600 000 people  have reached voting age since the last election. The law requires the voter registration process to be ongoing. We are of the firm view that ZEC cannot proceed with the delimitation of ward boundaries before the national  voters roll is updated. The people’s right to free fair and verifiable elections as well as representation of their choice is a central tent of any constitutional democracy.”

Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) Bulawayo Field Officer, Ndodana Ndhlovu said elections should be conducted on a regular basis and as an organisation “were crying over the suspension of by-elections.

“The constitution says if there is a vacancy, elections must be done within 90 days,” he said.

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